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Support services such as Catherine House and Hutt St Centre are the “best parts of Australia” reaching out and helping the people hurt by the “worst parts of Australia”, a breakfast gathering was told earlier this month.

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Hosted by the Australia Day Council of SA, the ‘In Conversation with Change Makers’ event at the Hilton Adelaide featured guest speakers who shared their personal experiences of domestic violence and homelessness.

Stand-up comedian Corey White had the audience wiping away tears of laughter and sadness as he revealed the horrific details of a childhood growing up with a violent and alcoholic father and a mother who was a heroin addict.

“We lived in absolute terror of my father, even when he wasn’t around,” he said.

He recounted how the many episodes of domestic violence would often result in his mother leaving with the children and seeking refuge in a women’s shelter or friends’ house, before eventually returning.

As the violence escalated Corey was placed in foster care where he was abused, starved, bashed and raped.

“My childhood experiences have had a lifelong impact on me,” he admitted, referring to his drug and mental health problems and experience of homelessness.

“I couldn’t trust people, couldn’t maintain relationships or friendships… I attempted suicide more times than John Farnham’s had comeback tours.”

Making light of a very dark time in his life, Corey spoke of one occasion at age 23 when he was on the Story Bridge in Brisbane preparing to jump.

His mobile phone rang and it was a telemarketer trying to sell him a better phone deal. He saw the funny side to receiving the annoying call at a time when he was about to have no mobile phone account – and stepped down from the bridge.

Corey said while there had been difficult times throughout his life, he got a lucky break at age 16 when he won a scholarship to an “excellent boarding school” and he had some “great friends” who provided support over the years.

In recent times he has carved out a career as a comedian (The Cane Toad Effect) and hosted an ABC television series (Roadmap to Paradise), but has never forgotten the help he received from services like Catherine House and Hutt St Centre.

“They are critical resources when people’s lives have been shattered,” he said.

“Domestic violence and homelessness are absolutely horrific. Many people want to pretend they don’t exist. It’s easier to look away.

“That’s why the work of Catherine House and the Hutt St Centre is so vital. The people in these organisations face absolute horror with love and devotion.

“They hold the broken women, they hold the broken men, they hold the broken children, they give them tea and biscuits, they listen, they help. They are the best parts of Australia reaching out and helping people hurt by the worst parts of Australia.”

Taryn Brumfitt

Local businesswoman Taryn Brumfitt, who founded the Body Image Movement and produced the Embrace documentary, also spoke emotionally about her late brother.

Close during their childhood years, she said her brother made a “bad choice” at age 19 when he tried heroin. His drug addiction eventually led to homelessness.

She recalled that when her parents hadn’t heard from him in some time they searched for him in Melbourne, finding him living behind a church in a bush, with only cardboard boxes to keep him warm.

They paid for him to stay in a hostel for a month and he then travelled to Sydney for a job opportunity. When he arrived he took a hit of heroin and died of an overdose, on a bench in a park next to Central Station. He was only in his mid 20s.

“So many people look away, but homelessness can happen to anyone,” the mother of three told the audience.

She urged everyone present to “make a commitment to do something” to activate their communities to address homelessness – and to “love more”.

Other speakers included Arman Abrahimzadeh OAM, who established the Zahra Foundation after his mother was stabbed by his father at a function at the Adelaide Convention Centre in 2010.

Sarah Gun, founder of Adelaide-based business GOGO Events, outlined how she is employing local homeless and disadvantaged women to help prepare and stage her company’s events.

A highlight of the morning was the emotional and uplifting performances by the Catherine House and Hutt St Centre choirs.

Proceeds from the breakfast will support the works of Hutt St Centre and Catherine House. The latter recently announced that through the “overwhelming support” from the community it would be extending its emergency accommodation by a further four beds, to a total of 52 beds being available each night.

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